The Sunday Notes: 2015 Awards Edition
The 2015 award season has come and gone, ending the year.
For the twelfth straight year, average attendance per game topped 30,000 and overall gate went up, barely, over last year. All told, 73,760,020 purchased tickets to Major League Baseball games in 2015. Would you believe the first year the average topped 20,000 was 1979 and the first season 10,000 was eclipsed was 1946? A dying sport? Hah!
If you are wondering how the pace of play rules did, the average game time fell seven minutes from 3:07 to 3:00 while the average nine-inning game dropped six minutes to 2:56. More needs to happen to speed up games as the average regulation game in 1985 weighed in at 2:39. A twenty-three minute bloat is not all television.
–One of the more remarkable stories to develop in 2015 was the emergence of Bryce Harper.
The Washington Nationals outfielder was the BBWAA’s unanimous choice as the National League Most valuable Player coming off a season hitting .330, hammering a league-high 42 home runs and an OPS+ of 195.
Oh yeah, he turned 23 in October. When Brian Gross of the Washington Post took a deeper look at where Harper’s 22-year-old season fell in history, what he found was eye dropping.
Harper is the fourth player at 22 to lead his league in on-base and slugging percentage. His company? Try Ty Cobb in 1909, Stan Musial in 1943 and, the only person to top Harper’s 1.109 OPS, Ted Williams in 1941. All Williams did that year was hit .406 and rack up an OPS of 1.288.
Add Mike Trout’s fourth straight season of either winning the American League MVP or finishing second and we have two of the most dynamic players in baseball history playing right now under 25.
–The sports department at Fox 32 in Chicago tells us the Chicago Cubs sweep of the NL Cy Young, Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year award marks the second time one team has had the honor.
The other? Look no further than the 1983 Chicago White Sox. The AL West champions earned Tony La Russa the Manager of the Year, LaMarr Hoyt the Cy Young and Ron Kittle Rookie of the Year. Jake Arrieta, Joe Maddon and Kris Bryant are in unique company with their neighbors from the South Side.
–As we start to ponder what the bigger starting pitchers could get in either free agency or as an extension this offseason, Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star examines how effective recent long-term big-money contracts have been.
Taking a closer look at six deals from 1999 forward that paid pitchers in excess of over $100 million for at least six years, Zwolinski finds the risk does not match the reward. As teams line up to sign David Price and Zack Greinke, he reminds us of contracts handed out to Kevin Brown and Mike Hampton. The news is not all bad—Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels have pitched well—but chances are whomever opens the wallet will be regretting it at the end.
These players have earned the right for a payday and will take what the market will offer. For big cash to flow, however, there had better be at least one World Series parade coming to the winning bidder.
–As players, in earnest, begin to move from one team to another, did you ever wonder when the first trade occurred? No, it really was not one player for a bucket of chewing tobacco or a bag of baseballs.
Michael Clair, writing for MLB’s Cut 4 site, tells the story of how the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association shipped catcher Jack Boyle and $400—roughly $9700 today—to the St. Louis Browns for outfielder Hugh Nicol.
Neither player had a huge impact for their new clubs, moving on elsewhere in future seasons.
Clair, a fun writer, also tells of a deal that might have happened a year earlier, but this is the first trade in history he can confirm.
–We mentioned last week that Fenway Park hosted a college football game Saturday, between Boston College and Notre Dame. (The Irish won.)
Did you know that Vin Scully caught his big break at Fenway calling a football game? The year is 1949 and the young Fordham grad gets a phone call from Red Barber, then the Sports Director at CBS Radio, to travel to Boston to fill-in for another announcer.
Scully, as MLB Cut 4 tells us, jumped at the chance to call the game and go to a dance at Harvard. All of 22, he thought he was a step ahead of the action leaving his coat and gloves at home figuring he would go straight to the dance from the warmth of the press box. Except there was no warm studio, only a cold exposed roof and a folding chair.
For reasons only known to Scully, he never mentions how cold he is doing the game, casually mentioning it after the fact to Barber. Impressed by the restraint of the kid, Barber would offer Scully a spot calling Brooklyn Dodger games the next season after Ernie Harwell bolted for a job with the New York Giants.
I remember Scully telling this story on a NBC Game of the Week at Fenway before the roof was turned into a second deck. Knowing how exposed it was to Boston’s elements, you knew how cold he was.
Yes, a football game in Boston spawned the career of baseball’s best announcer. Years later, while at CBS, Scully and Hank Stram called the 1981 NFC Championship at Candlestick Park. You remember Dwight Clark’s catch?
–Speaking of Scully, the Los Angeles Dodges hired young broadcaster Joe Davis to, umm, maybe, possibly, replace Uncle Vin.
Davis, who works FS1’s regional MLB and college football games, submitted an audition reel to Time Warner and others before the Dodgers reached out to hire him.
In this marvelous age where you can find anything on YouTube, here is Davis’ audition reel posted by him for you to watch.
He will work 50 road games for the Dodgers in 2016 as they figure out how to replace the irreplaceable. What an opportunity!
–I am sure you all know by now, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz announced this week that 2016 will be his last year.
The colorful designated hitter leaves Boston with a giant legacy as one of the most beloved athletes in the city’s history. Whether it was slugging a clutch playoff homer or appearing with popular Mayor Thomas Menino in a series of public service announcements, Ortiz will always be more than just a ballplayer.
The man is a legend in New England, and was before proclaiming Boston “is our (bleep)ing city.” As a baseball player, I think his impact rivals only Carl Yastrzemski after 1967 and Ted Williams in the 1940s. Number 34 will be retired in right field, Cooperstown or no.
MLB posted this gem from April of 2003, his first Red Sox hit and RBI. Kevin Millar probably reminds him at every opportunity that Ortiz drove him home.
Vaughn was a great contact hitter. Playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Brooklyn Dodgers, Vaughn hit .318 for his career and 2103 hits. In addition, Martin tells us Vaughn was a free spirit that had a running feud with manager Leo Durocher.
Never a power hitter, amassing 96 home runs over 14 seasons while making nine straight All-Star games, Vaughn was your prototypical great hitting pre-war player. In 1935, he had an on-base percentage of .491 as he walked 97 times whiffing 18.
As Martin says, one of the best players you have never heard of.
–The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown has yet to induct a scout. Maybe it is time to rethink that.
George Genovese, who spent nearly 50 years scouting California for the San Francisco Giants then the Dodgers, died this week at 93. Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times pens this wonderful tribute to a man who spent 70 years in the game he loved.
Unearthing such talents as George Foster and Barry Bonds for the Giants, San Francisco let him go in 1994 only to see him go to their biggest rivals, Los Angeles.
So revered as a scout, The Professional Baseball Scouts Federation named their lifetime achievement award in honor of him.
–The holiday weekend probably means there will be no new notes column next weekend. I hope you all have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving. See you in two weeks.